Shock waves from the Presidential decree, which had been in the works for several weeks, continued to cascade across US industry, business, and the political arena on Wednesday, even as thousands of skilled foreign professionals found their future upturned, and in some cases, families separated. There were several instances of dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders appealing to US authorities to facilitate their return and re-entry to America after being stuck in India during emergency visits.
But the most striking instances of the division caused by the EO came from two of Trump’s closest political allies – powerful Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. While Graham said the order would have a “chilling effect” on the nation’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic, Cotton bragged that Trump heeded his call in “taking bold steps to protect American workers.”
“With so many Americans out of work, there’s no reason to bring in more foreign guest workers to take the few available jobs. Companies ought to hire Americans at decent wages instead of shipping in competitors from overseas,” Cotton said on Tuesday, as Trump’s nativist base rejoiced over the EO and sought to make it even tighter, extending beyond its current December 31 validity.
But in a series of tweets, Lindsey Graham argued that legal immigration is a positive for the American economy, and visa programs such as H-1B allowing American companies to secure qualified, legal labor throughout the world have benefitted economic growth in the United States.
Those who believe legal immigration, particularly work visas, are harmful to the American worker do not understand the American economy.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) 1592866136000
“Those who believe legal immigration, particularly work visas, are harmful to the American worker do not understand the American economy. The shuttering of these programs may not lead to employment opportunities for displaced American workers, but could instead increase the cost of consumer goods for Americans – particularly service industry related products,” Graham wrote.
The difference of opinion between two of Trump’s staunchest allies echoed a similar long running divide within the White House between globalists such as the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and nativists such as Trump’s advisor and immigration hardliner Stephen Miller, whose imprint the EO bore. Although Trump’s own instincts, given his business interests, is that of a global entrepreneur, he is said to have paid heed to poll numbers showing that a majority of Americans support a freeze on immigration, at least during the coronavirus pandemic.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll from late April found that 65 percent of Americans supported temporarily pausing immigration because of the pandemic. This included 67 percent of independents, 61 percent of non-whites and even 49 percent of Democrats.
In fact, the extreme right and extreme left appear to be on the same page on the issue. While the populist “America first” approach to jobs dovetails with the views of the anti-immigration hard-liners on the right who want to build a wall across the southern border, “it also resonates with many labor-friendly folks on the left who will welcome the restrictions because, with 21 million US working-age adults unemployed in May, there are plenty of citizens who badly need jobs,” the LA Times noted in an editorial comment, while warning that the visa crack down will not help put Americans back to work.
In fact, the conservative Wall Street Journal went so far as to warn the action will only help China, even as some experts called it a gift to Canada, which they said would welcome those turned away from the US with open arms.
“Retaining out high-skilled overseas staff will hamstring US innovation, aiding China’s effort to dominate synthetic intelligence, semiconductors and biotech. The winners shall be China’s nationwide champions together with Huawei, Baidu and Tencent,” WSJ’s Editorial Board, cautioning that the same goes for L-1 visas for overseas transfers in managerial positions or these requiring particular abilities, which give multinationals flexibility to handle their international workforces and assist American jobs: If firms can’t carry overseas managers into the US, they may transfer jobs overseas.